Thursday, August 26, 2010

Imagination is Back: Lego Creationary Review

Lego-Games-Creationary1Let me begin this post by bemoaning the state of Legos today.

I was most enamored of the plastic bricks in the early-to-mid nineties – my interest lay chiefly with the Space and Castle-themed sets, which were seeing a particular boom during that period. Every year, the company would release a new, original, themed set of models, often with brand-new special pieces like massive laser cannons and dragons. Every holiday season was spent pining over Lego catalogs, wondering just which model would end up under the tree, and while most of the themed sets had backstories to go along with them, the company left it to the kid to fill in most of the blanks.

Now, I go into the Lego aisle, and the pickings are slim. Damn slim. Most of the models there are licensed products from evergreen franchises like Star Wars and Harry Potter and SpongeBob SquarePants which, while still fun enough, are a far cry from the Lego company’s in-house creations. Imagination, an important component of the Lego experience, is traded for familiarity and marketability.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard about the newest Lego game: it’s called Creationary, and it’s a damn fun time.

IMG_0257Boiling Creationary down to a sentence is easy: it’s Pictionary with Legos. This doesn’t quite sum it up, but it’s enough to go on.

Among the varied rulesets that come with the game, some constants can be found: there are three piles of cards, labeled as easy, medium, and hard. On each individual card are four different pictures, each in one of four categories. There is a single die, itself constructed of Legos, which is rolled to determine which category you'll have to build. And, of course, there is a tray full of Lego bricks, which you use to construct the things pictured on the cards.

Under the default rules, one Builder rolls the die and selects a card from whichever difficulty pile he or she is the most comfortable. On the easy cards, you build things like buckets and arrows. On one of the hard cards I selected, I was tasked with rendering the fucking Parthenon in Lego bricks. The other players guess what you’re building, and both the first person to correctly guess what the Builder is making and the Builder himself gets a point. Play then passes to another Builder, and play repeats until someone has five points.

IMG_0264I carefully hedge my descriptions with words like “constants” and “defaults” because the game ships with several sets of rules, and encourages you to change them and make up new ones to suit your play style. The die can be taken apart and put back together any way you want – snap a question mark block on the die, says the manual, and build your own creation without using the cards. Build something using only one color of Lego brick. Build with your eyes closed. The manual has plenty of suggestions to use as jumping-off points, each encouraging you to customize the game and make it your own.

The thing I like the most about Creationary (excepting the fact that no one doesn’t like Legos) is that it so thoroughly embodies the spirit of creativity and imagination at the core of Lego’s appeal. Just as a Lego model can be built, changed, torn apart, and rebuilt again, Creationary is malleable and invites invention. The pieces remain the same each time, but the end result can be as different as you want it to be.

IMG_0268Likewise, the game is just as fun for a group of adults as it is for families. I enjoyed it with some friends and a few beers, while Penny Arcade’s Mike Krahulik went on at length recently about how much fun it was to play with his six-year-old son (scroll down).

The game’s asking price is about $35 – a bit pricey for a board game, certainly. But if you enjoy board games (or if you just want something fun to pull out at a party) Creationary is an incredibly worthwhile addition to your collection.